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  • Brownie's Version

Heading Out

Heading Out - a short story of synchronistic symmetry.

The day before I received my sister's urgent text to say that our mom had just had a serious stroke, and that I should book the next available flight to Victoria, I'd had a request from a customer to purchase a 'quintessentially Canadian-themed' print. The yet-to-be-chosen print was to be a thank you gift to the staff, who were looking after his failing mother in a care home in England. In a few short weeks, he was going to visit her for, what would most likely be, the very last time.

After a bit of umming and ahhing, my client settled on a cross-country ski scene called 'Heading Out on Mountain Road', of a location in West Bragg Creek with Moose Mountain in the distance.

Interestingly, I had just ordered a large wrapped-canvas print of that particular painting and was eagerly awaiting its arrival, having not seen it in that format before. But for my client, this wasn't an option, as it would be too large to cram into his suitcase. I had a framed version though, as well as one in a simple white mat with a backing board, safely protected in a plastic sleeve, and it was the latter one he chose, for ease of transport, with the idea of having it framed upon arrival.

What I found interesting about all this was that the care home where the print was destined to hang was once an old English estate house, and my mother, who could only be described as Very English, always appreciated the ambience of such places. Although born at home into a coal fire-heated, two-up and two-down (rooms, that is), situated in a very working-class neighbourhood on the edge of industrial Birmingham, she had aristocratic inclinations. Her own mother had worked as a nanny/nurse for a wealthy family, and had consequently adopted some pretty firm ideas about 'how things should be done'. That evening on the phone, I told her where my print was going, and we both mused about it ending up on a dark, paneled wall, in what was once a posh dining room or study.

And lo, you know the rest - of how I left the for Victoria in a snowstorm, only to arrive to another one brewing, the hushed and sudden sad goodbyes that took place all that next night into the morning, and how I stayed to help my older sister begin all that must be done when a death occurs. But before I went, the last thing I did was deliver that ordered print to my client because, at the time, I had no idea how long I'd be gone. And then, it was the same painting but in canvas form, that greeted me upon my arrival back home, several devastating days later.

In hindsight, there is a strange and synchronistic symmetry in all of this, since it was not just my client's mother who was 'heading out', so to speak, but unbeknownst to me then, my own mother as well. How fitting a painting with those words in the title should be on its way to the old country, exactly the place where my mom's true heart always remained, despite many years living in Canada.

We often imagine death as a journey, and now I wonder, too, maybe there's even a bit of a climb involved, much like heading out on a mountain road.


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